Grave End for Bridge
2:00pm Thursday 7th February 2013 in Sport
Merlins Bridge 1
Giants Grave 4
Giants Grave showed why they are title contenders in the Neath Premier League as they proved too strong, streetwise and skillful for a battling Merlins Bridge outfit.
Wizards manager Bernie Armstrong is never one to beat about the bush and told the Western Telegraph,“I can’t fault my squads’ endeavours but we were outsmarted by a better side in the heavy conditions — and now we must look to aim for a high finish in the league as our No 1 priority.”
Giants Grave fielded a very experienced side which included coach Ian Morgan at the heart of its defence, with other experienced players like Richard Barness, Dai Ball, and especially Keith Phillips with the ability to keep possession.
To be fair to the Wizards, they never stopped running. Dai Davies and Nathan Thomas tried to win the midfield battle but failed to build enough periods of pressure, especially with the wind in their favour.
The visitors served early notice of their skillful play, even on a very heavy pitch.
Chris Hopkins rapped the woodwork with a left foot volley, while Steve McNabney fired into the side netting from the Wizards’ first attack.
But Merlins Bridge conceded a soft goal after 27 minutes when they failed to clear a ball lofted into their area. And as they waited for an offside decision, Hopkins scored, via the near post.
Giants Grave continued to have marginally the better of the play but the Bridge drew level just before half time when they managed to sustain pressure in the box. Ben Skudder, Simon Thomas and Brett Shakir were involved before it fell to McNabney for the striker to rifle his shot through a forest of legs and past Chris Pendleton in the Giants Grave goal.
At this stage the Bridge faithful could consider themselves slight favourites, with the wind at their backs and the conditions getting heavier – but they conceded soft goals in the 53rd and 54th minutes to trail 3-1.
Firstly they failed to clear and the ball fell to Sam Baker, who curved the ball past the despairing arms of Gary Thomas and into the far top corner of the net for a quality finish. Then another defensive lapse allowed Hopkins to break clear and, after rounding Thomas, his shot rolled agonisingly over the line.
The Bridge tried unsuccessfully to claw their way back into contention but the final nail in their coffin came when man of the match Keith Phillips picked up the ball some 25 yards out and rifled a diagonal shot which flew into the far corner – a magical goal to grace any game.
It finished any lingering hopes the Wizards might have held and, when referee Jonathan Twigg blew for full time, there was no doubting the fact that on the day the better team had won.
Merlins Bridge: Gary Thomas, Gethin Roberts, Simon Gilderdale, Paul Thomas, Simon Thomas, Brett Shakir, Peter Thomas, Nathan Thomas, Dai Davies, Ben Skudder, Stephen McNabney. Substitutes: Lee Hudgell, Gareth Williams, Jac Pepper.
Giants Grave: Chris Pendleton, Mel Arthur, Richard Barness, Chris Mahoney, Ian Morgan, Ross Davies, Dai Ball, Sam Baker, Chris Hopkins, Keith Phillips, Dan Evans. Substitutes: Dan Williams, Jamie Jones, Gavin Williams.
Referee: Jonathan Twigg.